On a vote of 196-180 on Friday, the House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.) and Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) to return management of gray wolves to state control.
Management of gray wolves was transferred from the state to the federal level following two 2014 U.S. district court decisions that reinstated gray wolves under the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
While listed under the ESA, wolves cannot be properly managed by state wildlife agencies, which supporters say best know how to balance healthy ecosystems with the needs of local communities and changing conditions on the ground. These designations leave farmers and ranchers in those states without a legal avenue to protect their livestock from wolves.
“The recovery of the gray wolf is a success story for the Endangered Species Act, and the best available science must determine whether species remain listed,” Newhouse said. “States are best equipped to effectively manage gray wolves and respond to the needs of the ecosystem and local communities. I am pleased that this bipartisan legislation to return management of the gray wolf species to the states, as requested by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and as proposed by the Obama Administration, has been approved by the House. I urge prompt consideration in the Senate.”
Newhouse stated during his floor speech, “On June 13, 2013, under the Obama Administration, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published in the Federal Register a proposed rule that would have removed the gray wolf from the 'List of Endangered & Threatened Wildlife.' This determination was made after Fish & Wildlife evaluated the classification status of gray wolves currently listed in the contiguous United States under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and found, and I quote, the ‘best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the currently listed entity is not a valid species under the act.’”
The Public Lands Council (PLC), National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) and American Sheep Industry Assn. (ASI) praised the passage of H.R. 6784, the Manage our Wolves Act, and asked the Senate to take it up before the lame-duck session ends. Prior to the vote, PLC, NCBA and ASI, along with 37 additional livestock and agricultural organizations, sent a letter of support for the bill to House leadership.
“Since 2011, the best scientific and commercial data available has supported removing gray wolves from the 'List of Threatened & Endangered Species.' It is encouraging to see the House of Representatives take this important step to make the Endangered Species Act work the way it was intended,” NCBA president Kevin Kester said.
In addition to requiring the Fish & Wildlife Service to reissue the Obama Administration-era rules, H.R. 6784 would require further rule-making to remove ESA protections for gray wolves across the contiguous U.S. Current and emerging science continues to find that wolf populations have been fully recovered nationwide.
“We are grateful to see a vote on this legislation, but the bill itself speaks to the need to modernize the Endangered Species Act,” PLC president Bob Skinner said. “Activists should not be allowed to abuse technicalities in the judicial system to force a relisting, especially when sound science and hard data clearly illustrate that it is time for these wolves to come off the list.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) urged the Senate to reject the legislation.
“This legislation is just the latest in a string of over 50 previous congressional attempts to undermine federal wolf protections. For a handful of legislators to not only remove federal protections for iconic wolves but also undermine citizens’ rights to hold their government accountable is unacceptable,” said Kitty Block, acting president and chief executive officers of HSUS.
Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, added, “The American people have demanded that the Fish & Wildlife Service make a decision based upon scientific evidence that is open to a public comment process. Instead, 196 members of Congress passed a bill to deny ESA protections to gray wolves based upon political motivations.”
The latest cattle and sheep death loss data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that in the eight states where gray wolves live, losses of sheep and cattle from wolves amounted to just 0.04% of their livestock inventories. Ten times more livestock die from disease, birthing problems, weather events and theft than from all predators combined, and scientific studies have shown that indiscriminate killing of wolves and other large carnivores actually increases livestock losses.